The Story of the Kinks’ Return to Rock ‘n’ Roll on ‘Misfits’
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By the mid ‘70s, Ray Davies was so immersed in theatrical rock operas, he probably hadn’t noticed he had lost all but the most devoted of the Kinks’ fans. The band’s string of albums in the first half of the decade was steady and, for the most part, forgettable. Everybody’s in Show-Biz, the two-act Preservation series, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace. Can anyone name more than two songs from these records?
When the Kinks released Sleepwalker in 1977, fans were excited and relieved to hear the group returning to the power-chord crunch that made it famous back in the ‘60s. No more concept records about long-forgotten mores or soggy musical experiments that dipped into vaudeville and post-war nostalgia. They were on a new label, entering a new era and ready to sell records in the U.S. again. Sleepwalker became the Kinks’ highest-charting album to date, just missing the Top 20.
So when they returned a year later with Misfits, Davies had learned his lesson. The album sounded like a direct sequel to Sleepwalker. Power chords, three-minute songs and arena-ready rockers filled the 10-track LP. None of the cuts pack the visceral punch of so many of the band’s ‘60s classics, but none of them sound like stuffy and dusted-off throwbacks your grandpa would like either.
The best songs – like the title cut and “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” – take the Kinks’ ‘60s formula and spins it through a ‘70s filter. The result is a bit on the obvious side but that was the point: It’s a rock ‘n’ roll record that fans, old and new, could get behind.
While Misfits, which was released in May 1978, didn’t climb as high as Sleepwalker, it did make it to No. 40, their second-best showing since 1970’s Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. It also includes their first hit single since “Lola” made it to the Top 10 eight years earlier, “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy,” which hit No. 30. The following year, Low Budget became the Kinks’ highest-charting album ever and one of their biggest sellers. Misfits helped set it up. It’s a significant record in their career and, more importantly, in their commercial rebirth.
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